Park County’s budget picture came in with clearer skies than forecasted this year, but imminent clouds are on the horizon due to the slowdown COVID-19 has waged on the economy.
“We’re in better shape this year than we were last year,” county commissioner chair Joe Tilden said. “It turned out better than any of us had anticipated, but looking into the future next year is going to be really tough.”
Commissioners will present the preliminary budget at 6 p.m. Monday and finalize the preliminary budget at their meeting 9:45 a.m. Tuesday. To watch either meeting go here.
The county’s departments – including landfills, the county road fund and E-911 – incurred $1.8 million in fewer expenses than budgeted last fiscal year, helping the county carry $471,821 into the next fiscal year. It was the most under budget the county has been for expenses since 2014.
“Credit our employees for doing it,” Tilden said. “We told our employees, ‘If you don’t need to spend it don’t spend it,’ and they didn’t even though it was budgeted.”
Since 2010, Park County has cut its spending by 7.6%.
“As we stand right now we’re running mean and lean,” Tilden said. “We don’t have much to cut right now unless we cut programs and staff.”
Although property tax revenue increased by 1.6%, assessed valuation runs on a calendar year schedule so this year’s totals were completed in January before the recent economic downturn.
“Going forward it will be valuation (collected) in January 2021,” Tilden explained. “Now the price of oil is starting to go up a little bit but back then (this spring), it hit rock bottom. It was in the negative so that figure is certainly going to reflect into the budget for next year.”
The county is anticipating a 28.1% drop in sales tax revenue for next year and a drop in overall revenue. Sales tax revenue did grow by $349,063 this past year, coming in nearly $500,000 higher than expected, but Tilden does not expect it to continue in this fashion.
Lodging tax revenue was up by 7.2% but the county is predicting a 32% drop for next year.
Tilden said he expects state grants and funding to be down this next year as well, with some programs already seeing funding cut this spring. Gov. Mark Gordon recently requested his agency heads cut their spending budgets by 20%.
Further reductions in revenue will come from the Park County Complex, where two tenants, Merit Energy and Legacy Reserves, have expressed a desire to reduce their rented space moving forward. The county expects $168,371 in reduced revenue at the facility.
Last year in an effort to save funds, the county held off on chip sealing its roads, a decision Tilden said was ill advised.
“It cost us in the long run,” Tilden said. “It doesn’t take long to ruin a paved or chip-sealed road with cracks. The water gets into the cracks, it freezes and thaws and the next thing you know the road is coming apart.”
This year, $120,000 in crack sealing will occur.
In June, the commissioners reduced $266,411 in funding for 21 different local business and nonprofit entities, such as the recycling centers in the county, Cody Shooting Complex, Park County Supervised Treatment Program, and Forward Cody.
The county will also look to save $37,000 at the fairgrounds this year, with a barebones version of the Park County Fair planned in lieu of the current health restrictions.
Of the county’s 31 departments and accounts, 29 came in under budget. One of the two that didn’t was the county commissioners, coming in $39,202 higher than projected.
The bulk of that spending came from $46,187 in outside legal fees for two cases. One of these cases, Peter Pleban v. Park County Board of Commissioners, involved a constituent with whom the county attorney had a conflicting relationship. The other, a class action lawsuit against Vanguard Natural Resources of Houston, has entangled Park County and five other Wyoming counties in a bankruptcy claim to force the counties to pay the company back taxes it already dispersed from 2017.
Tilden said the commissioners budgeted no money for outside legal fees because it is hard to project.
“In our perfect world we don’t need outside counsel,” he said.
There will be $1.9 million in property-in-lieu-of-taxes revenue carried over into next year after just $49,516 the year before. After PILT revenue came in far under budget last year – around $2 million short – the county came within $100,314 of its estimate for this year.
With PILT money included, the county has more than $2.3 million in carry over funding. Last year, that total was only $864,026. In result, the county was forced to pull $1.2 million out of reserves to balance the budget.
The county’s reserve fund will grow by $765,996 this year to $17.1 million.
Park County does not receive its PILT money until the end of the budget cycle in June, making it difficult to estimate what it will receive more than 11 months prior.
It was recently decided moving forward, the county will take PILT revenue from the budget and will pull from reserves in this budget cycle to cover what the PILT would have supported. It will then reimburse itself with the PILT money next June for the 2021/2022 budget year. This will essentially move the PILT funding to the beginning of the budget cycle, eliminating guesswork and estimating for what it will be.
“We’ll know in the beginning instead of the end,” commissioner Jake Fulkerson said.
The county will redeposit the $1.9 million into reserves if the board ever decides to reverse this methodology.